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Next year’s Oxford elections tied to economic progress, quality of life

For at least one member of Oxford’s City Council, running for reelection next year is a given: There are too many projects to see through to stop now. 

“That’s one of my reasons to keep running,” said Mike Henderson, who first served on the council for two four-year terms starting in 2000, and won his seat again in 2012. “We’ve got some things in the works that could use some consistency.” 

Most Alabama cities and towns in Alabama will hold municipal elections in August 2020, and that includes Oxford. Several developments there have been either announced or started in the last year, including projects like a children’s museum near the Oxford Performing Arts Center and an entertainment complex hosting anything from go-karting to laser tag near the Interstate 20 interchange on Alabama 21. The piles of debris that were once the Sears department store at the Quintard Mall, an early stage of redeveloping the entire site, are as sure a sign as anything else of one fact: The city is growing. The big discussions through the next year, according to Councilwoman Charlotte Hubbard, will keep coming back to economic development and quality of life improvements.  

“People are always looking for new opportunities for new jobs,” said Hubbard, who has served on the council since 2012. “That’s one thing we’ll really continue to try to focus on, bringing in new business and new families to our area.” 

Hubbard said she tentatively believes she will run again during city elections, though she had yet to make the decision for certain. 

Henderson said he felt the current council, composed of himself, Hubbard, Steven Waits, Chris Spurlin and Phil Gardner, had gelled into a cohesive unit. 

“We’re all pretty much on the same page,” Henderson said. “We all get along well enough to know it’s not productive to fuss and fight.” 

Other members of the council were unavailable or unwilling to discuss elections. Mayor Alton Craft declined a request to be interviewed about his election plans through the city’s public information officer Wednesday, and attempts to reach him by phone were unsuccessful. Attempts to contact Spurlin, Waits and Gardner also were unsuccessful this week. 

There’s bound to be some conflict, at least from the outside, in the form of Anniston group Forward 4 All lobbying to chop out part of the Model City and attach it to Oxford by legislative act. Officials in both cities have said they don’t want the change — though Charles Turner, the group’s representative, said Craft entertained at least two meetings in June about the potential impact of the group’s vision, though probably had no idea about the later drafted legislation — but if Anniston’s Ward 4 was appended to Oxford, the massive influx of residents in the proposed annexation area would change the city overnight. 

Addressing the conceptual nightmare — which as of now is merely a suggestion placed into the hands of Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, and not an official bill — may become relevant if Forward 4 All manages to make progress. The issue made to make a difference in plans for at least some of Anniston’s City Council members, like Ben Little, who said he couldn’t leave his office as Ward 3 councilman before reckoning with deannexation. 

Hubbard, though, said she thought the council’s focus was directed at providing a prosperous city, noting accomplishments like Oxford Middle School rating well on a list of Alabama’s best public middle schools published by niche.com, a crowdsourced review site for public bodies like cities and schools, and the passing of the Sunday alcohol sales ordinance, based on a referendum in July. 

“I think we’ll continue to listen to what the people have to say,” Hubbard said. “That’s kind of our guideline.” 

Assistant Metro Editor Ben Nunnally: 256-235-3560. 

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